BHM: Do You Know Who This Is Super Bowl Edition

Since everyone’s mind is on the Superbowl and the Winter Olympics is coming up, I thought I would do a special athletic “do you know” post for black herstory month. If you can name this person and her import to sports and black history by Monday @ 12pm EST, I will give you a $20 gift certificate from powells books (preferably to be spent on a black author of your choosing):


Part Two (02/08/10):

Yesterdays “Do You Know” post was about Vonetta Flowers. She was a track and field athlete who switched to bobsledding in 2000. She won a gold medal on her first Olympic bid in bobsledding ever to become the first black person to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics. That means she is:

  1. the first African American woman to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics
  2. the first African American (regardless of gender) to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics
  3. the first BLACK PERSON FROM ANY COUNTRY to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics
  4. one of a handful of athletes to switch sports at the Olympic level and go on to gold

Flowers story is an inspiration because of its rural to gold, N. American dream, trajectory. She was discovered in a competition held by Coach DeWitt Thomas in the parking lot of her modest grade school. She had the fatest running time of all the other students and was recruited to learn track and field. That recruitment, along with her own drive and determination, helped give her the funding and commitment to become the first person in her family to go on to college. Her track and field scholarship ensured Flowers would not have to worry about how to pay for school.

Her college years were also marked by athletic firsts in track and field. Not only did she win over 35 conference trials in track and field but she also became:

  1. the first person (of any race) to win All American seven times

Flowers first attempt at going to the Olympics was in 1996. Though she tried out, she did not make the team. When she tried out again in 2000 she was derailed by sports related surgery, the 8th in just a few short years. Instead of giving up, Flowers, spurred on by her husband, decided to switch sports. Initially going to the bobsled tryouts was Flowers way of supporting her husband, but after he pulled a hamstring muscle and could not continue, she took on the dream for both of them and brought home gold.

Flowers, and her bobsled partner Bonny Warner, were ranked 2nd in the U.S. and 3rd in the world. I’m sure this too is a first, but have not been able to confirm it.

Flowers strength and perseverance is an inspiration to women in sport. Her career proves that you can succeed in the most unlikely places and her commitment and drive, prove that you can succeed as an athlete even if you have to switch sports. Her success at the Winter Olympics also helped break the color barrier in winter sports and encourage other black athletes to consider sports traditionally dominated by white athletes and/or by men. She helped change the way that coaches and commentators talked about black athletes at the winter games and about black people’s participation in winter sports like bobsledding.

Our Contest Winner: No one made it by the deadline. Bianca, who was the first person to get the answer, has graciously suggested we have another contest. So be looking out on Sunday for another Do You Know Post.

10 thoughts on “BHM: Do You Know Who This Is Super Bowl Edition

  1. it’s vonetta flowers! ow! shes the first black woman to win 1. gold in winter olympics in bobsledding… i think. i should google that no? and 2. i think shes also first black woman form alabama to win gold. or maybe now is when i start making stuff up…

    • ah bi, you missed the deadline by 50 minutes but I am considering extending the deadline to let you win since you are the only one who got it. 1 thing, she was not just the first black woman but the first black person to win a winter olympic gold. (bio coming later today)

    • then you did exactly what I was hoping people would do with this question; ie, some research on black women’s herstory. well done!

      • Yeah, I ran with the Speedo theme (missing the memo that Speedo created the bobsledding gear that year) and looked into swimming, a sport I’m very familiar with, hence my befuddlement last night. If she’d been a swimmer, I would have recognized her on sight.

        But the swimming detour led me in some interesting directions, mainly around the question of why there are so few black swimmers. It seems like this is a pipeline problem; it’s not that black people are at any biological disadvantage as some would like to believe, it’s that they represent a miniscule number of competitive swimmers at any level. I can attest to this; I swam in high school and was one of very few.

        More concerning, though, was the deadly consequences of this. It’s not just that black people aren’t interested in swimming competitively or cannot afford to do so (it is quite an expensive sport in relation to basketball and football). Tt’s that twice as many black children cannot swim at all (60%, according to some MSNBC reporting) and are three times more likely to drown as white children. The numbers are similar for Hispanic children. This is serious. I’ve had conversations with friends who say that this isn’t a priority and it’s not a big deal but I beg to differ. (For what it’s worth, Cullen Jones started swimming because he almost drowned. I started swimming because my mother refused to have a child who couldn’t get herself to safety if she fell into a pool.)

      • a colleague of mine, who does race history in the civil rights era, has a theory about black people and swimming; mainly that whites-only pools and their abandonment to decay after integration ensured that many black people had no access to pools, lessons, or other safe venues to learn and enjoy swimming (watering holes were also notoriously whites-only spaces and getting there could be dangerous even if they weren’t); so that actually what is seen as a cultural attribute “blacks [people] don’t swim” is actually a legacy of segregation and racism.

        It’s a fascinating thesis.

      • Yeah, I think this is true and the article I read last night suggests that USA Swimming knows it’s true and is trying to combat it. The same study found that children whose parents don’t know how to swim are considerably less likely to learn and on it goes. The events this summer in Pennsylvania show that access to pools is still an issue. But now we’re in a situation where access to pools and inexpensive lessons is much more common, though still patchy, and the numbers aren’t changing. It’s a deadly legacy, as so much about the history of segregation and racism is.

        Sorry for hogging the comments; this is just one of my serious interests, blacks in niche sports, especially swimming.

        On the issue of Vonetta Flowers, though, bobsledding seems to have a decent track record when it comes to inclusion of black athletes because the skills they’ve acquired in other sports translate well. Track and field in the case of Flowers, football in the case of Herschel Walker.

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention BHM: Do You Know Who This Is Super Bowl Edition « Like a Whisper --

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s